COVID-19 Increasing Racial Disparities

Tue, November 10, 2020 10:34 AM | Marsha Grant (Administrator)

COCHS Weekly Update: November 10, 2020

Marshall Project: When Going to the Hospital Is Just as Bad as Jail

States and cities have long struggled with a dearth of mental health care funding, and whether to put that limited money toward more in-patient psychiatric beds or community mental health care. This tension has only gotten worse during the pandemic, now that government budgets have been gutted, some psychiatric hospitals have become COVID hotspots, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression are on the rise. Just as communities of color experience more police violence, they also face disparities in the existing mental health system. Alameda County, California, has the highest rate of psychiatric holds in the state—over three-times the California average. Black people make up over a third of those brought to the hospital’s emergency psychiatric ward, but just a tenth of the county population overall.

The Sacramento Bee: California must reduce jail and prison populations to fight COVID-19 — and racism

A California Court of Appeals recently ordered the San Quentin State Prison to halve its inmate population. While some states and localities have taken steps to reduce incarceration, the overall effect has been negligible. Even though jail populations plunged and prison populations decreased, there are nearly five times as many COVID-19 cases per capita among incarcerated people than in the general population. Most people who are released from incarceration are returning to a community that has been harmed by both the virus and economic recession, not to mention a history of mass incarceration. COVID-19 has exposed the flaws of a system that focuses its effects on Black, Hispanic and Native American people. Fighting against COVID-19 in prisons and jails with decarceration and improvements in health care won’t just control outbreaks, it is also fighting racism.

Undark: Is Mass Incarceration Driving Racial Disparities in the Pandemic?

Encompassing nearly 100 acres, the Cook County Department of Corrections is one of the largest single-site jails in the country. The jail currently houses about 5,400 detainees daily, most of them awaiting trial, and employs more than 3,000 staff. The County, as it’s known across Chicago, has been cited for a laundry list of civil rights violations since the 1970s. This year, the County earned another dubious distinction: It was home to one of the country’s largest Covid-19 outbreaks at the height of the pandemic in the spring. By the end of April, 628 detainees and 279 staff had tested positive. Yet an underappreciated paper published in June suggests that the virus outbreak rippled far beyond those concrete walls. It showed that 16 percent, or about one in every six, of all Covid-19 cases in Chicago and across Illinois could be traced to people cycling in and out of Cook County Jail. As a result, the authors reveal a strong correlation between incarceration and Covid-19 cases in the region, especially in African American communities.

NBC Los Angeles: Drop in Jail Population Due to COVID Failed to Cut Number of Black or Mentally Ill Inmates

The release of thousands of inmates from Los Angeles County jails in response to the coronavirus failed to reduce the proportion of mentally ill inmates or racial disparities in the lockups, both of which are on the rise, according to a county report released Monday. That number would need to be cut significantly further in order to support closing the downtown jail, which was built in 1963 and houses roughly 4,000 of the more than 13,000 individuals held in custody countywide, based on an Aug. 19 point-in-time count. Based on that count, the proportion of both Black men and women in county jails has increased since before the virus struck. Black people made up 29% of the jail population pre-COVID and 31% on Aug. 19, while the number of white inmates dropped from 15% to 12%.

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